The mayoral race in Jerusalem this coming Tuesday is shaping up to be a tight one. Arcadi Gaydamak is a long-shot dark horse, and the real race is between independent Nir Barkat and former Deputy Mayor Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman announced on Thursday that he supports secular candidate Nir Barkat for mayor, but many others have signed a call in favor of hareidi candidate Meir Porush.

Though in the the last elections, five years ago, hareidi-religious candidate Uri Lupolianski defeated Barkat by a handy 52-43% margin, this time it appears too close to call.  Barkat has become more well-known than he was then, and is now actively courting the critical religious-Zionist vote.

According to MK Zevulun Orlev, leader of the National Religious Party, Barkat is succeeding. "Most of the polls show that more than 75% of our voters in Jerusalem will vote for Barkat," Orlev told the Kol Chai radio station this week. 

Orlev for Barkat

Orlev stated why he himself also plans to vote for Barkat: "One of my considerations is the identity of Jerusalem's Chief Rabbi," Orlev said, referring to a post that has been vacant for years. "Will Porush agree to have a Zionist chief rabbi, or Zionist rabbis in the various neighborhoods?" Orlev asked.

Another concern of Orlev is the competition for education funding: "Let's say that tomorrow there is a dispute, like there is in the Ramot neighborhood where they want to put hareidi schools instead of national-religious - what will happen then?  Everyone should try to figure out for himself which candidate will be best for Jerusalem, and who will stop the exodus of educated young couples from Jerusalem."

On the other hand, many rabbis are convinced that Barkat is reaching out to the religious-Zionist public only because he needs them for his mayoral race. In actuality, they say, he is a left-leaning politician who welcomed Shimon Peres to the Jerusalem chapter of Kadima shortly after the Disengagement-Expulsion from Gush Katif, and who expressed support for the Gay Pride march in the Holy City.

Rabbis for Porush

The Dean of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, has come out in support of Porush, as have Rabbis Avigdor Nebenzahl, Avraham Zuckerman, Elyakim Levanon, Chananel Etrog, Chaim Shteiner, Yehoshua Shapira and others.

Many in the national-religious camp remember how Porush, as Deputy Housing Minister in the Netanyahu and Sharon governments, helped build up many Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria.

Another issue in dispute is who can better ward off a division of Jerusalem. Some say that Barkat has more influence in left-wing government circles - while others say both that Porush has more of a desire to protect Jerusalem, and that in any event, the issue will not be decided on a municipal level.

Choosing Up Sides

Barkat-supporters include Labor's Welfare Minster Yitzchak Hertzog, who has called Porush a "right-wing extremist," Histadrut Labor Union head Ofer Eini, Natan Sharansky, and Yisrael Beiteinu MK Avigdor Lieberman.

Supporting Porush are Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, Jerusalem Bar Association head Asher Axelrod, former Finance Ministry Director-General Shmuel Slavin, ex-top Sharon aide Dov Weisglass, former Jerusalem Police Chief Yair Yitzchaki, Rami Ben-David, former Knesset Speaker Avrum Burg, investment company director Gil Malka, and others. 

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